First, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Ontario government, especially the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs, for the confidence they have shown in me by again extending my appointment as Commissioner, this time for five years. It is an honour and a privilege to serve the community and to be part of a committed, dynamic, competent public service. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank the efficient, dedicated team that supports me in my duties.

In the wake of the announcement of my new term, I was asked many times what the priorities of the Commissioner’s Office would be in the next few years. Certainly, complaints from the public remain one of our bread-and-butter activities. In addition, there are the interventions and actions dictated by current events and the government decisions of the day, which are an unavoidable reality in a position such as mine.

What may seem a bit more surprising is that one of the other key aspects of our day-to-day activities, I think, will be the complaints that we do not receive. Many citizens will never complain about a lack of service in French by the Ontario government, or any other authority, for that matter — either because they have never been actively informed that they have such rights, or because, even though they know their rights, their circumstances make it very difficult for them to complain. Consequently, I would like to devote a significant portion of our activities to the members of these disadvantaged populations.

That said, the Commissioner’s Office has very limited resources, both human and financial. We must therefore concentrate more on our mission and continue to make as much of a difference as we can with the resources that we have. That means making choices.

A new approach is needed.

It goes without saying that we will always welcome complaints from citizens — that is not changing and will never change. From now on, however, complaints will be processed from a systemic perspective. Let’s be clear on this point: we will continue to intervene quickly in cases where immediate action is called for, explaining to ministries and other government agencies that our clients are, first and foremost, their clients, and that they are ultimately responsible for righting any wrongs done to their clients by any deficiencies on their part. Beyond these ad hoc interventions, though, I want our office’s actions to focus on things that are most likely to make a difference in the development and vitality of the Francophone community.

We could divide the complaints we receive into four major sectors: justice, health, government services, and other government ministries and agencies. But what about the complaints we don’t receive, as I indicated above? For example, ministries that provide Ontarians with a wide range of direct and indirect services, such as the Ministry of Community and Social Services and the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, are seldom mentioned in our files. Does it make sense for us to disregard them because there are so few complaints, when their clientele consists largely of disadvantaged populations? Of course not. We need to make sure that those populations receive, actively, respectfully and systematically, the right government services in French, because they are already fragile and will never dare to raise their voices, even though it’s in their interest.

I am often asked how much it costs to provide services in French, or, from my point of view, how much it costs to obey the law. But isn’t the reverse a better question? How much does it cost the system when we break the law by failing to provide high-quality French-language services from the initial contact with the citizen? Because the citizen who did not receive the right service, did not understand the prescriptions, directions or instructions, or did not receive the right diagnosis or treatment, will return to the service provider a second time, or even a third time, clogging the system and driving up the cost to Ontario taxpayers.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. In its concluding reports, the Commission advocated the creation of bilingual districts that would have cut across federal, provincial and municipal jurisdictions. As we know, that recommendation was not implemented, as the federal government opted for individual rather than territorial bilingualism. In fact, the recommendations that English and French be made the official languages at the federal level as well as in the provinces of Ontario and New Brunswick, were among the ones that attracted the most attention at the time.

Fifty years later, it is reasonable to ask the following questions: Has Ontario struck a balance by strengthening the rights of its Francophone minority without becoming an officially bilingual province? How has Ontario managed to reconcile multiculturalism and Francophonie? For my part, I think it is easier to answer the latter question thanks to the adoption in 2009 of the new Inclusive Definition of Francophone (IDF), one of the proudest government accomplishments of my first few years as Commissioner.

To answer the former question, we need to take a step back. And that is precisely what this annual report attempts to do: analyze the government’s achievements, not from the narrow viewpoint of a single year, but mostly from the broader perspective of the last six years.

The past year has been one of transition, with the entire apparatus of government apparently waiting to see in what direction a new premier would drive it. This does not mean the government was sitting on its hands. But as a result, the reader will find only a small number of recommendations in this annual report, since it is a recapitulation of previously discussed issues.

Nevertheless, although the province is not recognized as officially bilingual, it is not far from being so. Legislation is passed in both languages, with both versions having equal force of law. One can use French in the courts anywhere in Ontario. And one can communicate and receive services in French in most of the parts of this great province where Francophones live. I therefore ask Ontarians to continue doing what they do best, which is to act as leaders in promoting and protecting minorities, including the one that is an integral part of the province’s heritage, history, identity and future: the Francophone community.

Receiving services in French is not just a right in Ontario. As a participant in a Fédération de la jeunesse franco-ontarienne event rightly reminded me, it is also a matter of pride. Pride in being able, for example, to pursue a postsecondary education in French in Ontario, a pride that cannot be enjoyed by all students in all fields, especially in Central-Southwestern Ontario. Pride in knowing that the language one speaks is recognized, valued and used by the provincial government. Because, in the end, pride isn’t something you legislate. It’s something you live and breathe.

Over the past year, I have signed memorandums of understanding with the federal and New Brunswick commissioners, among others. Those agreements, which formalized existing collaborative relations, are beneficial not only for the public but also for the members of our respective teams, since they promote more effective handling of complaints between the administrations and the transfer of knowledge between the organizations. (I would like to take this opportunity to welcome Graham Fraser’s reappointment as Commissioner of Official Languages for another three-year term — bravo! — and to thank both Graham and New Brunswick Commissioner Michel Carrier for their advice, support and friendship during my tenure in this position.) There will be more such agreements. They are vital to the efficiency of our office and to helping us communicate as effectively as possible with the Francophone and Francophile population.

I have made many productive contacts with Francophile associations, such as Canadian Parents for French; it is an avenue I would like to explore further. Especially since, as mentioned in the report, with an exogamous couples rate of nearly 70% for the province as a whole, the distinction between Francophone and Francophile is less and less clear. Food for thought.

At a February 2013 conference organized by Glendon University College and the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada, it was suggested that a greater effort should be made to keep the quality of French at a very high level. I naturally agree with that approach, particularly with regard to communications from the government, its ministries, government agencies and third parties acting on their behalf. There is a need for caution, though: Ontario’s population, including the Francophone population, is so diverse that everyone has an accent. And it would not be unheard-of if English expressions slipped in from time to time. If we resort simply to coercion, as Michel Carrier rightly pointed out, the only thing that people will learn is to keep quiet. After all, our personal history, our circumstances — in short, who we are — demand respect. And that goes for the person across from us, too. If that means having to utter or hear one English word in a sentence, so be it. Expressing it in some other way would be, in any case, rather étrange.

Speaking of expressing oneself, the Commissioner’s Office is innovating once again by introducing a new approach to communicating with the public. We strongly encourage the reader to consult this report online, as it is interactive, user-friendly and supplemented with relevant content. In addition, our new website offers more information about the current activities of the Commissioner’s Office, simplifies searching by area of interest, and will — I hope — generate more discussion and debate.

This report presents a review of the past and, in particular, lays the foundations of a new approach for the Commissioner’s Office. I am eager to implement this new approach, with the support of dedicated public service employees and proud Francophone and Francophile citizens of Ontario.

Happy reading!

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